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School AV Connects With Students

PROJECTORS HAVE made a major difference for the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District (LCISD) in Rosenberg, TX, 34 miles southwest of Houston, where projectors and widescreen displays have slowly been replacing 32-inch CRT TV monitors over the last three years.

School AV Connects With Students

PROJECTORS HAVE made a major difference for the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District (LCISD) in Rosenberg, TX, 34 miles southwest of Houston, where projectors and widescreen displays have slowly been replacing 32-inch CRT TV monitors over the last three years.

Space constraints in the classrooms also contributed to Hickman’s decision. The TDP-T40U measures 3.8 by 11.2 by 10 inches, and weighs 6.6 pounds, while the TDP-T90U is 4 by 11.7 by 10.8 inches, and weighs 6.2 pounds.

In addition to the projectors, LCISD bought drop-down screens and upgraded audio equipment (new amps, microphones, and speakers). Da-Lite’s Model B and Model C manual projection screens, which have a Controlled Screen Return Feature, were selected to further ease use and installation.

“The Model B variety of this screen is very light and can easily be mounted on grid clips on suspended ceilings,” says John Copeland, Data Projections’ account manager for LCISD. “Model C screens are a little heavier and can typically be wall-mounted using ‘L’ brackets or ceiling mounted using all-thread. Both varieties of screens offer excellent front-projection qualities with good gain over painted dry-wall or cinderblock.”

CONFIGFREE WIRELESS SOFTWARE

To better control communication between laptops and projectors at the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District (LCISD) in Rosenberg, TX, Steven Hickman, the school district’s director of technology, uses Toshiba’s ConfigFree Wireless Communication software, which offers a set of tools to optimize connections. The software is a free installation to selected Toshiba notebooks and Pocket PCs, although Hickman says a free download also works well on his Dell Latitude D800 notebook.

Users can download the ConfigFree Wireless Communication software to a radar screen of all wireless access points to find the one with the best signal. The software suite includes network analysis, dial-up shortcuts, and a WiFi status indicator. Toshiba’s online product link also explains the means by which ConfigFree can switch profiles, set up problem-solving log files, more easily locate wireless device information, and share files.

However, Hickman admits that there’s one drawback. “The projector doesn’t support multiple keys — it only supports the default key,” he says, noting that LCISD uses a different key on its Cisco wireless infrastructure for security reasons. “If we change our access point to work off of Key 1, then the projector and computer work. But all of our other access points in the district are on Key 2.”

Hickman’s “keys” are Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) algorithms, which are based on a standard that aims to protect wireless communications over local area networks (LANs) from eavesdropping and unauthorized access. “We chose the second key location to make it more difficult for an outsider to hack in,” he says.

That’s because most of the presentations incorporate access to a remote Internet or network server, rather than rely on more insulated choices, such as PowerPoint.

To date, Cisco hasn’t come up with a solution to the problem, and Toshiba hasn’t been called upon to assess the situation (which, its representatives stated, the company is more than willing to do). To date, Hickman bypasses the wireless option, opting for a cable connection from the PC’s VGA port to the projector.

Califone PA-300 speakers with built-in amplifiers were ordered in white to match the drop ceiling tiles upon which they were mounted. They were easily installed at the projector location utilizing the Chief CMA-440 Above Ceiling Tile Kit.

Standalone Crown Audio CRO-D75A amplifiers were also placed in the boardroom, along with Shure UT4A and UT2 (SM58) wireless microphones. “The boardroom is about three times larger than the size of a typical classroom, and in a classroom you don’t do sound reinforcement for individuals — it’s strictly equipment-oriented,” Hickman says.

The projectors hang from the ceilings above the drop tiles, and are typically attached with uni-struts, or are used in a portable capacity.

However, cinder blocks in some classrooms posed a tricky challenge to rendering the installation aesthetically pleasing. “You would have had to run an external cable down the cinder blocks, but you can’t go behind the walls,” says Zaleski, who suggested a wireless alternative that came at the same price as the wired Toshiba projector Hickman liked.

“Instructors can come in the facility with their wireless PCs and, as long as they have a wireless card, they can connect to the projector without any cables,” Zaleski adds.

Hickman was enthused at the prospect of a wireless alternative for another reason: the software that enabled a multimedia proposition. For Holub and her staff of instructors, this meant the option to incorporate offerings from the Internet, be it content per se or a better way to illustrate how to use a drop-down menu.

For Hickman, it also signified the ability to incorporate third-party display products. “Software lets you emulate handwriting [to better express formulas, for example] right from the computer,” he says. “You can also annotate a slide once you have it up there — it takes advantage of several different pieces of technology all rolled into one.”

Hickman says LCISD got its first wireless projector, which is controlled by a Toshiba Protégé M200 tablet PC, about a year and a half ago. Data Projections’ Copeland says that he bypassed Toshiba’s available computer output port for a solution utilizing Extron Electronics’ distribution amplifiers. “The low cost of the Extron P2DA2 made it possible to eliminate one of the cable runs and, in the end, clean up the installation and save the customer money,” he says. “The Extron P2DA2 XGA allowed for much more tactile and fluid control of the mouse and content. The Extron P2DA2xi is compact, and we’ve never had an issue with it interfacing with an owner-furnished PC.”

Hickman points out that teachers face the class and have their backs to the overhead monitor, directing their computer commands for the projected image by looking at the PC monitor.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

“If I wanted to have the display show up on both monitors and not use one of those distribution boxes, I’d have to have a cable that comes out of the computer and goes through a conduit to the projector’s VGA in-port, and another cable that comes out of the VGA out-port to the computer,” he says. Conversely, the alternative requires half as much wiring to a distribution box stationed somewhere between the computer and projector.

To take even better advantage of wireless technology’s bells and whistles, the school district also bought nine SB580 Smart Boards from Smart Technologies. The touch-sensitive Smart Board displays connect directly to a computer and digital projector (rear projection models can include an integrated projector). Users can opt to control computer applications directly from the display, write notes in digital ink, and save any work to share later.

Hickman estimates that about 60 Toshiba projectors were installed throughout the school district. The total cost to the district was estimated at about $81,500.

Robin Berger is a freelance reporter who specializes in various technology issues. She can be reached at [email protected]

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